THE INTERVIEW : DANA ELEMARA, FOUNDER OF ARGANIC
BY KHANDIZ JONI
Here at FutureFrock, we love to celebrate the inspiring, passionate stories of the people behind our favourite brands and products.
Arganic was started to make a meaningful impact on the world. Seeped in history and tradition, this wonderful company works with a partner farm Sidi Yassine in a beautiful village in the south west of Morocco, to produce fully traceable organic Argan Oil. This partnership allows 600 Berber women to be able to financially contribute to their household incomes. Our beauty editor, Khandiz Joni speaks the founder of this wonderful brand; Dana Elmmara.
You worked in investment banking before founding Arganic. That must have been an interesting transition from the world of finance to organic beauty?
I actually gave up my career in investment banking before launching my business. I knew that if starting a business was easy, more people would be succeeding at it. I figured that if I was going to go all the way and try my own thing, it needed to be well thought out, and for that, I needed to be in the right head space.
At Goldman Sachs, it was so ‘culty’ and I worked long hours, I was worried that in that environment I’d forget my dreams and lose my personality.
Another thing that comes into it is being a woman. If you do want to start a family one day, you only have so many chances and I wanted to get it right the first time. Starting a business is a bit like preparing for battle! You have to be mentally and physically so strong. You suffer many knocks and constantly have to sell your idea to yourself as much as to others, and you need to have as much self security as possible.
I do believe in general one should be working whilst starting a business, and only go into the business full time once it starts to take off. As well as the financial benefit, it means you have more structure in your week which actually makes you more productive. After Goldman Sachs I took on some more flexible work whilst launching Arganic.
Can you tell us a little more about what skills you had from your previous career that you were able to transfer to building your brand? As I truly believe our previous experiences serve as invaluable lessons for the future.
Funnily enough I am in the middle of writing a blog post about this! I completely agree, and I am very grateful for the experience I gained from the world class training and experience on the graduate programme at Goldman Sachs, in particular;
· Getting used to working long hours, which is inevitable when you start your own business.
· How to best communicate with men and get them to take you seriously in a male dominated environment. A lot of the decision makers I rely on for my current business are men.
· They taught us that you can only make a first impression once, and that you can lose money and easily gain it back but if you lose ‘face’/reputation, it can take years to recover from the damage.
· The best thing I learned was the importance of networking and how to communicate at an intellectual level. They used to drum into us the fact that someone today may be ‘useful’ in 5 years time. They also taught us how to follow up appropriately after meeting someone new, and they often took us out of the office to practice networking. Arganic was grown organically and on a budget, and has had no external investment to date. The amazing people who have supported me from individuals to small companies providing services have allowed us to be successful.
I know how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day grind of running a business. We often forget to celebrate our achievements. So I would like to give you this opportunity to tell us about your milestones. Any achievements that got you squealing with excitement or simply just beaming with pride?
Wow this is so true, you hardly stop to let yourself appreciate because you are too focused on either solving problems, or what you are trying to do next. Firstly, every single order that comes through online, or a new stockist gained still is very exciting 5 years in. It also always makes my day to see people using our product in wonderful ways like Symmetry Breakfast on Instagram. I am very proud of my team and those who we work with operationally which makes me feel like I must be doing something right. We have achieved an extensive amount of national press despite not using a PR company to date and I suppose we are stocked by the likes of Selfridges, Harrods, Marks & Spencer, Planet Organic, and Whole Foods!
You have won numerous awards for your two versions of Argan Oil. Can you tell us what is next for Arganic? How are you future proofing your wonderful brand?
We will soon be diversifying into other ingredients (beauty and food) from Arabic speaking countries. The key thing from our side is to work directly with farms and provide that connection for the customer. Many of the countries we will operate in aren’t particularly accessible but grow wonderful things. It is also important to us that we fully understand everything we are selling, not only to provide the best product possible to our customer but also to represent what we are selling and where it comes from with integrity.
To shop this wonder oil, visit: www.arganic.co.uk
It’s always a 'moment' when we feel we have the courage to step forth into unknown territory and take responsibility for your dreams. Perhaps something has been digging away at us for some time, but is finally triggered by a moment of reflection, a beautiful vista, a striking person we walk by in the street! Can you tell us about the moment you felt that the life you were living was not the life that resonated with you?
I remember there was a really high value Japanese trade that was close to failing at Goldman Sachs. Rather than just doing what best could be done to rectify the situation, there was a big hoohah in the office and people were getting flustered. All I could think about was that there was a war going on in my home country (Iraq) and that in the wider sense of problems, everyone just needed to calm down.
When I looked around me rather than having role models, I saw too many clones. They were nice people but they were all the same and shared the same comfortable routine and interests. I felt as though I was drowning in how big it all was and that I couldn’t make an impact. I started to feel nauseous almost as if I realised this wasn’t me. I then made a decision that I would rather live in a hut somewhere in Thailand and sell sandwiches, with next to no income than stay there.
What have the challenges been of starting and running your own brand?
One of the few things you can guarantee about business is that there will always be problems. Many times this comes down to your own lack of experience and entering new territories, but there is no better way than to learn on the job. Very quickly you learn to accept these mini disasters as part of what you do, and just get on with it calmly.
My age I have to admit has been a challenge for me. I am 32 now but look a few years younger (I blame the argan oil!) and people often underestimate my experience and knowledge. It’s also become a trend for young people to set up and open a business almost flawlessly, and don’t get me started on book deals. It’s not just about experience, original content, or owning your craft anymore and I don’t want to be tainted with the same brush. I spent 2 years researching argan oil at a time it wasn’t really popular & spent days and nights with Berber people so that I could fully appreciate what I was selling. I also really had to hustle my way to get to where I am now, for example, I only lived in a ‘proper’ living space a few months ago with 5 years of moving around and living in buildings like schools and recording studios, sharing bathrooms, and having no kitchen, through property guardianship schemes. That’s how much I value and believe in what I’m doing.
I’m also very opinionated and outspoken but when you have a brand it’s different, it’s not about you anymore and I often have to hold back a bit. There is a lot of bureaucracy within the industry, just wait until the business gets bigger and I can speak out!
What is the best piece of advice that you can give to other women wanting to take the plunge and start their own business?
Don’t isolate yourself from men, integrate with them.
While the world is still predominately controlled by men it’s important to understand their mindset so that you can manipulate them and argue in their ‘language’ to achieve what you know is right. This is why I tend to be sceptical of women only groups. I recommend reading business books written by men particularly if you haven’t had the male dominated environment I have had to work in.
I believe, in general, that women make better entrepreneurs than men because our ego doesn’t get in the way of asking for help, after all, no human is an expert at all the elements required to run a successful business. However, the issue for most women is simply not having the confidence to start, you need to realise you worth, why the world needs you, and just do it!